Fame is a strange beast. Social media, even odder. When Justin Theroux, who played a morally ambiguous chief of police in HBO’s The Leftovers and voiced the four-armed Lord Garmadon in 2017’s The Lego Ninjago Movie, takes to the streets of his native New York City, he doesn’t get stopped for being the fear-smelling leader of the Shark Army.
“I definitely get recognized as Kuma’s dad. That happens shockingly more often. I’ll get, ‘Oh my God, that’s Kuma.’ And then, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s you.’ But it’s really about Kuma. It’s a catwalk when she hits the streets,” says Theroux.
That’s because it’s not hyperbole to call Theroux Instagram’s most passionate advocate for rescue dogs, pit bulls in particular. He documented his adoption journey when he rescued Kuma, a photogenic canine whom he adopted through Austin Pets Alive! and whose likes include swimming, dining out, and wearing fancy collars.
Naturally, she swings by during the interview. “She’s got a babyface. She’s technically almost forty-something. I mean people, a lot of times I’m walking around, people will say that that dog’s going to be big. She’s not getting much bigger than this. She might get fatter, but that’s about it. She looks like a puppy,” says Theroux, slipping her a treat.
Now, he’s headlining a remake of The Mosquito Coast, based on the book written by his uncle, Paul Theroux, in 1981. The series, streaming on Apple TV+, stars Theroux as an idealist who moves his family to Mexico after they go on the lam from the U.S. government. The screenwriter, actor, and canine hero talks to Fatherly about what makes him tick these days.
I love your posts about Kuma. I think you are now officially the dog dad of social media.
I didn’t know that I was anointed with that title, but I’ll take it. Anytime you can promote, through adorableness, the rescue of adorable pit bulls, I’ll take that. I’ll do that whenever I can.
It was especially affirming to see you out and about in New York with her, when everyone else with the means to do so fled the city.
Well, I was inspired by other people like New York. As a New Yorker — I don’t know if you were here during the pandemic, but I was here for the entire thing. It was no Hamptons for me. There was no upstate. So it was heartbreaking to see but at the same time kind of affirming because I started to get back on a first-name basis with my grocer at the deli. The neighborhood started to feel like a neighborhood again. It was cozy.
And now Ray’s is open again.
We’re not doing the same business that we used to do obviously, but surviving, you know, and our staff are getting paid and they’re working and getting vaccinated, so it’s fabulous.
How did you wind up playing the lead in an adaptation of a book written by your uncle?
It wasn’t nepotism in the traditional sense. It was kind of right place, right time, right age. When the book came out and the original movie was made, I was I think 14 years old. This just came about in a completely natural way. When I heard about it, I thought, ‘Hey, I would like to read that script and raise my hand.’ And then I had the joy of calling up Paul and saying, ‘Hey, you know, would you do be averse to this?’ And he said he was absolutely thrilled. So that was great.
What did you bring to this character now that you wouldn’t have been able to bring even 10 years ago?
I would like to believe nothing. I can say what I think I can bring to the character that maybe no one else can is — the character itself is based in part on my grandfather, uncles, and probably more than he would like to admit, on Paul himself. And so I have that just in my memory bank, particularly my grandfather, so that’s a very easy reach for me. I don’t have to invent that, the way in which he behaved and did things and his outlook on certain things. Having spent an enormous amount of time with all of them, I know what that looks like.
Like for example, going to the dump was a big pastime of my grandfather’s. Not to throw away garbage but to bring garbage home. He would frequently go to the dump with us. He’d say that anything you can get at the store, you can get at the dump and he would get books, records, hardware, parts, screws, or hinges. He was incredibly good at collecting things like that. So that’s in our show obviously.
Given that your uncle is a writer, are you a big reader?
You’re not gonna like the answer much. My mom doesn’t like this answer, but I don’t read that much, but I have a good get-out-of-jail card, which is that I’m a little dyslexic and it’s not really a habit that I acquired at an early age. I mean, I do read and I have read and I do read occasionally. I don’t get the same joy out of it that you might and even at this stage in my life it feels a lot like homework.
You’re so vocal on behalf of rescue dogs, which is really nice to see. As you pointed out, you can’t fix the world, but you can fix one tiny part of it, which is pit bulls being euthanized.
Some people, there’s no convincing. Like any dog, you have to work with the dog. Adopt adult dogs and senior dogs. Puppies get adopted fast. The benefit of it is, you know their temperament. I encourage people to foster. Pit bulls are loyal and kind. Helen Keller owned one. I’ve had now four of them and have not had a problem with one.